When Moss is in 'attack mode,' Iowa's offense can soar

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Isaiah Moss in the open court is as devastating a sight as there is for opponents of the Iowa men’s basketball team.

The 6-foot-5 sophomore guard has an explosive first step, the ability to play through contact and can complete a layup with either hand. He also is willing to pull up while a defender frantically backpedals and hit a 3-pointer.

Moss was at his best in Tuesday’s 92-64 Hawkeye home victory over Southern Utah, scoring 16 points on three 3-pointers and three drives, two of which came after he stole the ball.

“He just kept firing and then got hot again. That’s the important thing for him, that he just keep attacking and shooting from the outside, mixing up his game a little bit,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said Thursday of Moss’s 6-for-14 shooting performance.

Iowa's Isaiah Moss looks for an open teammate during the Hawkeyes' game against Southern Utah at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017.

Moss is showing growth in his first season as Iowa’s starting shooting guard. His best games have come when he forces opponents to respect him off the drive as well as at the 3-point arc.

He’ll look to build on that when Iowa (7-6) puts its three-game win streak on the line at 8 p.m. Friday vs. Colorado (8-3) in a game being contested at the cozy Sanford Pentagon here. The arena seats just 3,200. The game will be televised on BTN.

Moss is averaging 11.8 points per game, third on the team. He was at 6.5 as a freshman.

But it’s not just his scoring that is up in Year 2. He’s become a better passer, with 21 assists after recording only 29 all last season. He’s become a more active defender, with 11 steals after 13 in 34 games last winter.

When he’s aggressive, Moss gives Iowa a dimension that no other player can. It’s why McCaffery has given him free rein to shoot even if his first attempt or two (or three) doesn’t fall.

Moss has shown that he can heat up if he doesn’t go into a shell after a missed shot, such as in Iowa’s loss at Iowa State. He missed all four of his 3-pointers in that one and ended up with only four points.

“When he’s in attack mode and when he’s scoring and mixing it up, we’re a better team,” McCaffery said. “I think what you’re seeing is a guy that’s becoming more confident in pretty much everything he does, and that’s important to our team.”

Moss’s shooting percentages are higher than a year ago as well — 42.7 percent overall (41.2 last year) and 37.1 from the arc (35.8).

He’ll be vital to Iowa’s cause against a Buffaloes team whose best player is point guard McKinley Wright IV. The dynamic 6-footer is one of eight freshmen on the roster and is coming off a 30-point, 11-assist, nine-rebound effort in a double-overtime win over South Dakota State.

That’s the same SDSU team that defeated Iowa last month in the Cayman Islands Classic. Both Colorado and Iowa have victories over Drake this year, but no other common opponents.

McCaffery said Wright reminds him of former NBA superstar Allen Iverson. McCaffery faced Iverson as an assistant coach when he played at Georgetown.

“He’s a smaller guy in height, but he plays big,” McCaffery said of Wright, who averages 16.6 points and 5.5 rebounds and leads Colorado with nine blocked shots. “He kind of comes at you 100 mph every time, herky-jerky crafty guy, competitive guy. He certainly doesn’t play like a freshman at all. He’s one of the better players that we’ve gone against.”

The neutral-court game provides Iowa with one final chance to get a win against a major-conference team before Big Ten play resumes Jan. 2. The Hawkeyes are 0-4 in such contests. Colorado is a member of the Pac-12.

Iowa may be without a pair of junior reserves in Brady Ellingson and Ahmad Wagner. Both injured their ankles in Tuesday’s win and didn’t play in the second half. They didn’t practice Wednesday either, but McCaffery was hopeful they could do so Thursday, calling them “day to day.”

McCaffery does expect to play his son, freshman point guard Connor, for a fourth time as he makes a slow recovery from mononucleosis.

“He’s capable of giving us a few minutes but he’s not coming around like we’d hoped,” Fran McCaffery said. “The conditioning is not coming quickly at all, unfortunately.”

Connor McCaffery has played 41 minutes during the Hawkeyes’ recent three victories with six assists and only one turnover. The team has no other natural point guard on the roster to back up sophomore Jordan Bohannon.

Still, Fran McCaffery said a redshirt season remains a consideration for his son.

“After this game, we’ll kind of see where that is and let the doctors decide where we go from here,” he said.